What If THE RINGS OF POWER’s Stranger Is Saruman?

The Rings of Power finale took viewers on a ride with solved mysteries, reunions, and goodbyes. However, The Lord of the Rings TV series still left plenty of questions for future seasons. When it comes to the Stranger, played by Daniel Weyman, we learned he is one of the Istari, but we did not learn his actual name. He regained his identity and seemingly his memories, but the Stranger did not say, “Hi, Nori, I have a name and it’s Gandalf.” His friendship with the adventurous Harfoot, his mannerisms, and some of his lines ring true for Gandalf the Grey. Even some of the imagery in his scenes screams Gandalf. But what if the Stranger is a different wizard we all know from The Lord of the Rings? What if the Stranger is Saruman?

By the time we meet Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, he’s up to no good. He’s lost his way in a search for greater power. That Saruman is nothing like the Stranger who falls from the sky in The Rings of Power. But maybe that’s a reason why he’s Saruman and not Gandalf.

The Stranger looking confused in the Rings of Power
Prime Video

Why Could the Stranger Be Saruman?

Ultimately, we don’t know who the Stranger is, aside from being an Istar, or a wizard. Five wizards came to Middle-earth, so the Stranger could be any of them. When the Valar realized Sauron had returned, they sent the Istari to help the peoples of Middle-earth. Nori even said in the finale that the Stranger was there to help. But why do I think the Stranger is Saruman?

In Middle-earth history, it seems likely Saruman arrived before Gandalf did. In Unfinished Tales, J.R.R. Tolkien said of Saruman, also known as Curumo:

The first to come was one of noble mien and bearing, with raven hair, and a fair voice, and he was clad in white; great skill he had in works of hand, and he was regarded by well-nigh all, even by the Eldar, as the head of the Order.

The Silmarillion says Saruman was the eldest Istari and came first. He definitely volunteered to go to Middle-earth first. Tolkien’s complex writings and retcons don’t reveal a crystal-clear answer about Saruman arriving first, but if you go by The Silmarillion, Saruman did. And in The Rings of Power, when the mystics realized their error, they said the Stranger is the Istar—not one of the Istari, the Istar, as if only one is present in Middle-earth right now. This moment was part of an overall mistake, and they could be wrong about this observation, too. But if only one Istar has come to Middle-earth so far, Saruman is a strong candidate.

Saruman’s History Before The Lord of the Rings

Saruman side-eying in The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Prime Video

As mentioned, the Valar sent the Istari (who are Maiar spirits) to Middle-earth. In Tolkien’s writings, they came across the sea. The Silmarillion says, “In the likeness of men they appeared, old but vigorous.” Only Círdan the Shipwright knew Saruman’s identity. Saruman was known for being subtle in speech (with a powerful ability to sway others with his voice) and skilled in smithcraft. He eventually became the leader of the Istari because of all of them, “he had most studied the devices of Sauron of old.” In other words, he learned about dark magic and Ringlore and knew the enemy the best of the Istari.

Much of Saruman’s history in the Second Age is mysterious.

Saruman and Rhûn

The Mystics, believing the Stranger is Sauron, tell him he must go to Rhûn to fully explore his powers. They got the identity wrong, but the Stranger felt the direction about Rhûn to be accurate. He and Nori leave for the land in the east at the end of The Rings of Power season one finale. In Tolkien’s work, Saruman went to Rhûn, shortly after he arrived in Middle-earth, in fact—just like the Stranger. Two Blue Wizards went with Saruman into the East. Saruman remained in the East for hundreds of years, only returning to the West when Sauron’s power started to grow. We don’t know any details about his activities in Rhûn or his other easterly travels.

Gandalf, however, never went to Rhûn.

We don’t know if the Stranger will make it to his destination and the show could certainly deviate from lore or invent new history ( as it has done already). Still, this is a point to consider.

Saruman’s Eventual Betrayal

The Stranger and Nori's hands holding on to one another on The Rings of Power
Prime Video

By the time of The Lord of the Rings, Saruman has become jealous of Sauron’s power (and Gandalf’s too). He sees the Dark Lord as a rival and also an aspiration. Saruman wants to be Sauron’s only servant. We know of his ultimate betrayal against Middle-earth, maybe especially against his fellow Wizards and the Valar. Knowing where he ends up would make the Stranger’s current journey all the more fascinating.

If the Stranger is actually Gandalf, think about it from a character development standpoint. I don’t find it terribly exciting that Gandalf arrived in Middle-earth and was good from the beginning (with Nori’s help). That makes Gandalf more or less like we know him from The Lord of the Rings, thousands of years in the future. He will likely go through some things, but that would mean the Gandalf we meet in the Second Age is largely the same as the Gandalf in the Third Age.

On the other hand, if the Stranger is Saruman, consider that journey and how it makes his transformation all the more tragic. He starts on a similar path as Gandalf, but his choices and hunger for power lead him to evil. Saruman comes to look down on hobbits. After his friendship with Nori, that would hurt. Plus, if the Stranger is Saruman, it also makes Gandalf’s journey and decisions all the more important and emphasizes an ongoing theme in Tolkien’s works: every being has the power to choose between good and evil, or selflessness vs. selfishness.

Amy Ratcliffe is the Editor-in-Chief for Nerdist and the author of Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy, The Art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, The Jedi Mind, and more. Follow her on  Twitter and Instagram.

Top Stories
Trending Topics